Hartlepool residents to be consulted over new proposals for changes to council tax benefit system

Councilor Rob Cook
Councilor Rob Cook

HARTLEPOOL residents are to be consulted over new proposals for changes to the council tax benefit system.

In April councils were given the power to administer the benefit from Government but with a 10 per cent cut in funding.

That meant in real terms it was a 13.4 per cent for Hartlepool which meant Hartlepool Borough Council effectively had £1.5m taken away resulting in less being given away in benefits.

In order to ease the burden, councillors agreed at the time for a tapered approach over four years for the council’s localised council tax support (LCTS) scheme.

Because pensioners are among the vulnerable groups protected, the council was initially considering introducing a 20 per cent cut in levels of council tax benefit for others.

But instead it was agreed there would be an 8.5 per cent reduction for 2013-14, 15 per cent for two years after that before it rises to 20 per cent in 2016-17.

Now though, the council is proposing to increase the reduction to 12 per cent in 2014-15 before it rises to 20 per cent in 2015-16.

It would mean those in a Band A property being liable for £135 of council tax, rather than £95 with the current 8.5 per cent cut.

Speaking at the council’s finance and policy committee, finance chiefs say the reason they are looking to make changes is in light of “significantly higher grant cuts” facing the council in 2015-16.

Officers said members may wish to review the proposed 2014-15 scheme, with a view to increasing the proposed cut in support from the current level of 8.5 per cent.

They argue continuing to phase the reduction would still help households but also allow the council to share the grant cut across the general fund and the LCTS scheme, which will reduce the 2015-16 general fund budget cuts by about £1.4m.

Labour councillor Rob Cook said it was better for a gradual increase adding: “It would be harder to do it all in one go.”

Council leader, Christopher Akers-Belcher, said he would prefer to go out to consultation, while Labour councillor Carl Richardson said people needed to know the situation.

In Hartlepool, 15,000 households receive the council tax benefit, including 6,600 pensioner households and 8,500 working age households, with the annual amount of benefit awarded around £13.3m.